Managed operators achieved above-inflation like-for-like sales growth of 5.2% in March 2024, the latest CGA RSM Hospitality Business Tracker reveals.

Trading during the month has been boosted by Mother’s Day, St Patrick’s Day and an early Easter Bank Holiday falling in March.

The Tracker shows holiday delivered particularly strong growth for the managed pub sector, where like-for-like sales were up by 7.2% in March. Growth was softer for restaurants at 3.4%, while the food to go segment saw a 5.2% decline.

Whilst bars still recorded a decline of 0.5% in March, this is somewhat of an improvement from the 13.6% and 7.4% declines in January and February respectively, showing the impact the early Bank Holiday weekend celebrations and holidays has had on the hospitality sector this month.

For the first month since November, restaurant, pub and bar groups achieved higher growth outside London than within the capital. March sales inside the M25 were 4.0% ahead of last year, but ahead by 5.7% beyond it.

Karl Chessell, a director at CGA by NIQ, said: “These figures are encouraging for hospitality after a slow start to 2024 and show that people remain eager to celebrate holidays and special occasions in restaurants, pubs and bars. While spending remains tight for many consumers, we can be cautiously optimistic that their confidence will continue to increase in 2024 in line with an easing of inflation. Operators still face severe headwinds, and it may be some time before they generate sustained real-terms growth, but March showed the sector is moving in the right direction.”

Saxon Moseley, head of leisure and hospitality at RSM UK, said: “An early Easter break and the arrival of Spring weather gave rise to inflation-beating sales growth in March, with pubs the main beneficiaries as friends and family opted to celebrate in their local establishments. After two months of sluggish growth to start the year, operators will be hoping these results represent the green shoots of consumer confidence returning to the market as inflation slows and energy prices fall.

“The sector has seen several high-profile closures in recent months, with more challenges to follow including minimum wage and rates increases in April and changes to tipping legislation in July. All will be hoping that this sales momentum can continue into the summer months to give businesses some much needed breathing space and help balance the books.”